Different Interview Types: Case Interview.

The case interview is a whole separate class of interview, dealing with practical issues related to a job. Situation management, problem solving, and how interviewees handle job roles.

It's a complex technique used mainly in business interviews but which can be applied in the context of other professions. Case interview techniques are now showing up in other methods of interviewing, so they're worth understanding.

Case interviews are often conducted as a dialog betweeninterviewers and the candidate. It's a penetrant interviewingtechnique.

CASES

Cases come from a series of categories:

  1. Business. All businesses have standard problems and situations. Problem solving, relationships, teamwork, client management, basic management skills, leadership, business tactics, and workload management are normal subjects.
  2. Past experience . These questions are derived from your CV, and relevant, because it tests your own stated levels of skills , knowledge, and explores your work history. Particularly relevant in some interviews, because it's an indication of your standard of work, and the levels of complexity you've experienced.
  3. Investigative.Questions may explore character, opinions, corporate culture, and other matters which relate to a 'fit' in the workplace. This is quite like targeted selection,
  4. IQ tests. These can take a variety of forms, like puzzles, or actual IQ tests. There's also a wide range of possible business derived aptitude and personality tests, like the Myer Brigg test, a benchmark test, and one of the more interesting. These are widely accepted testing methods. Although most people would have done several, in terms of the case interview they're an added level of qualification for a job.

Note: These are basic methods, every case interview will be geared specifically to the position. Applicants should consider these principles as a guide to case interviews, and remember that in any actual interview, they need to concentrate on the requirements of the position. What's required from any case interview is unambiguous. Each case interview needs individual treatment, like case management.

CASE INTERVIEW METHODS

Role play

The interviewee is given a role in a business situation. Issues are raised, and the candidate, in this role, is the one making the decisions. The most common framework for a situation is a client-based series of problems.

Interviewees are required to deal with a series of questions and in some cases side issues. There's a range of responses, and answers aren't necessarily 'correct', but scored according to a value range.

Not unlike a standard test, options are rated higher or lower. There's scope for some creativity , but the employer is looking for a series of elements which are required to be included in the responses, like particular client needs.

Obviously, this is a test of a practical work-based role. It's also, in all cases, a test of the interviewee's knowledge base and skills. How a situation is handled, and the candidate's ability to solve problems are the primary considerations.

Questions and case structures

In some cases, the interviewee will be part of a team. The team is there to add elements to the test. Teamwork is a high priority, and team leadership is sometimes a tough test of skills.

For example:

A 'home' team is meeting a 'client' team. The home team is there in a market consultancy role. The candidate, who is dealing with the clients as team leader, is now confronted with added situations from his own team. Some of these new elements may include contradictions, lack of enthusiasm, or in some extreme cases,incompetence.

The criteria from the employer's point of view is pretty straightforward:

'Can the candidate deliver, manage the team, answer the problems, and arrive at a good business result?'

Degrees of difficulty can be intense. Some situations are designed to add strong elements of doubt, distraction, and tangential materials. (The McKinsey test, below, is a good example.)

Time frames

Time frames vary, from simple situational questions to the role playing described above. They are an added component of difficulty, in some cases, or as some might describe it, 'adding time for the candidate to make more mistakes'. Time management is another basic skill, always required.

HANDLING THE CASE INTERVIEW

Case interviews are intensive, and sometimes disorienting for those who haven't previously encountered them.

Remember:

Case interviews identify successful candidates.

To deal with case interviews,practice is required, and an awareness of the possible scenarios.

The knowledge base, and other related skills, notably role playing, need to be visualized as operating in a case interview situation.

This isn't a 'normal' interview, and case interviews require preparation.

Role playing

For some people role playing is easy. Others actually need to take courses. Applicants need to look realistically at their abilities. 'Stage fright' doesn't help an interviewee. Interviewers my sympathize, but after all what you're supposed to be doing is the job you want.

It is absolutely essential to be able to perform well in a case interview.

If you lack skills, it will show. A lot of training is now available in role play, from business colleges and private trainers. Even acting classes can add some depth to an interview performance.

The idea is to get fluency in your delivery, and some confidence. It's not a waste of time, because those skills are always useful on the job.

Questions

In a case interview, the questions are also checking your communications and comprehension. Understanding a question, particularly in the context of a role playing situation, is absolutely critical.

Be sure you understand every question.

If you don't, ask for clarification.

Don't guess.

If you don't understand the question, you will definitely give the wrong answer.

Explaining your logic

A good answer is always valuable even if it doesn't quite fit the 'script'. The employer needs to know how you think, as well as what you think.

Rote answers don't help when your logic is the issue.

A canary can recite Shakespeare, but couldn't write Hamlet. You really are being asked whether you know what you're talking about.

Answers must have clear working logic.

Why you do something is as important was what you do, to the employer. This is evaluating judgment, and in many jobs judgment is a key requirement.

You also need to explain how you would achieve your answers.

This is step logic, phase by phase, the actual mechanics of the answer.

If Phase One doesn't happen or won't work, the phases after it won't, either. You don't need to become pedantic, but you do need to show working logic, in a practical form.

NOTE: Information for tests

Information may or may not be supplied by interviewers. It's unlikely that interviewees will go in entirely unprepared, but any information provided will be useful in preparation.

CASE INTERVIEWS IN THE BUSINESS CULTURE

The strong point about case interviews is that it allows realistic, in-depth, testing. Some candidates would benefit greatly from an opportunity to show their skills. Case interviews can be a showcase for knowledge and demonstrate the ability of good situation-handlers.

Against this is the sometimes arbitrary, pre-conceived notion of case interviews where the required responses can be criticized for inflexibility, or not including some management options.

Online resources

Another criticism is that the case interview method has spawned an over-supply of information on the internet. At the time of writing, 12.4 million results were generated by the search 'case+interview'. Some sites are expressed in 'HR language', using references to HR methodologies, and requiring a dictionary to get useful information out of them.

It's advisable to shop around for the information you need, at your level of expertise. Higher levels of information are useful, but you need to do any case interview on its own terms.

Specialist sites are available, notably MIT, which is an industry standard reference, and McKinsey, which has comprehensive references and some online practice tests. McKinsey is suggested for higher level job seekers.